When, back in the 1960s, Simon & Garfunkel sang the line “Hello lamp post, what'cha knowing?” , little did they realise that com...

The playable city initiative that enables conversations with the lamp posts of Bordeaux

When, back in the 1960s, Simon & Garfunkel sang the line “Hello lamp post, what'cha knowing?”, little did they realise that come 2016 they might even get a response from the lamp post itself. For that is precisely the system that has been rolled out in Bordeaux for this year’s “Semaine Digitale” festivities, and which will be extended throughout April and into early May.

The system is called, appropriately enough, “Hello Lamp Post” and provides a means of interacting with all kinds of street furniture around the city including trams, monuments and bollards. Getting started is simple: pick an item of street furniture with a serial code on it, send a message in this format “Hello object #code” to 0644606055 (or “Salut” if you prefer communicating in French), and then see where the conversation with the inanimate object takes you. 

Creator Ben Barker in Bordeaux.
The system was developed by the UK agency Pan Studio, and creator Ben Barker was in Bordeaux to introduce local journalists and bloggers to the joys of conversing with street furniture. He explained that “it’s a fun feature that can transform a city into an environment where people can play. The street furniture was already there, the serial numbers too, we haven’t added anything.” But by tapping into those little features, people are able to access a new, smart, playable dimension to the city which didn’t previously exist.

After first being rolled out in Bordeaux twin city Bristol in 2013, Hello Lamp Post has also been deployed in cities like Austin and Singapore. Ben says that “it’s been well-received everywhere, which is particularly rewarding for what is essentially an interactive urban experiment, a large-scale art installation. It is amusing to see how much people open up and confide in the objects. Usage also varies according to the surrounding culture. In Singapore, where people seem especially attached to inanimate objects, people often end up having recurring conversations with street furniture, talking to the same lamp post every day!”

Trying out the system I had a couple of short conversations with lamp posts and responded to questions about my useless talents, my ideal pet and what Bordeaux people do better than anyone else. The system magically cross-referenced with other people’s responses and weaved it all into an exchange. It was amusing although it did also soon feel like I was glued to my telephone screen rather than taking in the surrounding view and admiring the lamp-posts themselves.

But there is definitely a neat idea in there. Wouldn’t it be great if street furniture really did have tales to tell about the things that happened in the vicinity, or could share stories passed on by people who have experienced something unusual nearby, whether trivial or life-defining? That sort of interaction with our environment could actually be the future of visiting cities and recording the history of our urban environments, as experienced by the people themselves, whether they live there or are just passing through. Hello Lamp Post might just be a first step in that direction.
    Video introduction to the concept:

    > Further information: www.hellolamppost.co.uk

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